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Keystone makes Black Sheep staff redundant amidst costly rebrand

Black Sheep Brewery’s new private equity group owners have confirmed it has made a sweep of redundancies at the Masham-based business.

The latest raft of redundancies, which were enforced by Keystone Brewing Group — the new name for Breal Group which acquired the Black Sheep Brewery last year — was part of a “strategic restructuring” which involved the “reduction of a small number of roles”.

According to the private equity firm, the redundancies needed to be made due to the “enormous challenges” faced by the sector, noting that “efficiency measures are essential”. This, however, had been timed with the group pushing a major rebrand for the Yorkshire brewery involving new labelling and packaging along with marketing and PR in the refresh being sent out to press.

Black Sheep Brewery’s new chief executive Mark Williams, who works for Breal’s Keystone and recently replaced the brewery’s long standing figure Charlene Lyons, admitted that he had been “forced to consider all options available”.

Williams said that is “an incredibly difficult time for all” and explained that “making redundancies is always the last resort.”

In asking the private equity firm if more redundancies might be in the pipeline for its craft brewery acquisitions including further staff at Purity, Brew by Numbers (BBNo) and Brick, the communications department for the company declined to comment unless a meeting or a “chat” with Williams could take place with the drinks business on a one-to-one basis on the firm’s terms.

This is not the first time the business has come under fire for its actions, with a shareholder from Black Sheep recently calling the private equity firm’s pre-pack administration deal of the Yorkshire business “glorified daylight robbery” and Brick and BBNo brewery sites being closing down, with staff being laid off and brew kits being moved to Masham.

The rebrand news that is being marketed by the company right now, coincides with the departure of staff while also following news that Black Sheep recently received a £1m investment from new owners Keystone.  Since it bought the brewery last May, it has declared that it had plans to “act as a unifier” for all of the new beer businesses it has added to its group, however the reality of staff redundancies and pub site closures taking place last year since it bought the business as well as these recent extra redundancies and consolidation moves are doing little to support that notion.

Breal Group, which has historically worked with the steel and aviation sectors and is based in London’s Cavendish Square, is headed up by Brent Osborne and Alan McLaren who both founded the business in 2013 using the beginning initials of each of their names.

Since 2000, Osborne has been a director of 25 companies, the current directorship having a combined turnover of approximately £154 million and a combined valuation of £282 million and has written a self-published “adult novel” called The Fascination under the pen name Bob Renterson, which invites readers to “enter the seedy and erotically charged world of money, power, greed and addiction”.

In a statement, shrugging off the news of the redundancies, Williams assured that he and the firm remains “committed to Black Sheep” and reiterated how the business had made “significant investment plans” into the Masham site and assured that, despite the reduandancies, the private equity firm’s game plan will “remain totally unaffected”.

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